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A Descent into the Maelstrom 

Edgar Allan Poe 



WE had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some 
minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak. 

"Not long ago," said he at length, "and I could have guided you on this 
route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past, 
there happened to me an event such as never happened before to 
mortal man —or at least such as no man ever survived to tell of —and 
the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up 
body and soul. You suppose me a very old man —but I am not. It took 
less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, 
to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at 
the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can 
scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy?" 

The "little cliff," upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself 
down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while 
he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme 
and slippery edge —this "little cliff arose, a sheer unobstructed 
precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet 
from the world of crags beneath us. Nothing would have tempted me 
to within half a dozen yards of its brink. In truth so deeply was I 
excited by the perilous position of my companion, that I fell at full 
length upon the ground, clung to the shrubs around me, and dared not 
even glance upward at the sky —while I struggled in vain to divest 
myself of the idea that the very foundations of the mountain were in 
danger from the fury of the winds. It was long before I could reason 
myself into sufficient courage to sit up and look out into the distance. 
"You must get over these fancies," said the guide, "for I have brought 
you here that you might have the best possible view of the scene of that 
event I mentioned —and to tell you the whole story with the spot just 
under your eye." 



"We are now," he continued, in that particularizing manner which 
distinguished him --"we are now close upon the Norwegian coast —in 
the sixty-eighth degree of latitude —in the great province of Nordland - 
-and in the dreary district of Lofoden. The mountain upon whose top 
we sit is Helseggen, the Cloudy. Now raise yourself up a little higher — 
hold on to the grass if you feel giddy —so —and look out beyond the 
belt of vapor beneath us, into the sea." 

I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters 
wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian 
geographer's account of the Mare Tenebrarum. A panorama more 
deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right 
and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like 
ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and beetling cliff, whose 
character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the surf 
which reared high up against it its white and ghastly crest, howling 
and shrieking for ever. Just opposite the promontory upon whose apex 
we were placed, and at a distance of some five or six miles out at sea, 
there was visible a small, bleak-looking island; or, more properly, its 
position was discernible through the wilderness of surge in which it 
was enveloped. About two miles nearer the land, arose another of 
smaller size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at various 
intervals by a cluster of dark rocks. 

The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant 
island and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although, 
at the time, so strong a gale was blowing landward that a brig in the 
remote offing lay to under a double-reefed trysail, and constantly 
plunged her whole hull out of sight, still there was here nothing like a 
regular swell, but only a short, quick, angry cross dashing of water in 
every direction —as well in the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of foam 
there was little except in the immediate vicinity of the rocks. 



"The island in the distance," resumed the old man, "is called by the 
Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the 
northward is Ambaaren. Yonder are Iflesen, Hoeyholm, Kieldholm, 
Suarven, and Buckholm. Farther off —between Moskoe and Vurrgh — 
are Otterholm, Flimen, Sandflesen, and Skarholm. These are the true 
names of the places —but why it has been thought necessary to name 
them at all, is more than either you or I can understand. Do you hear 
any thing? Do you see any change in the water?" 

We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to 
which we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had 
caught no glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the 
summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually 
increasing sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an 
American prairie; and at the same moment I perceived that what 
seamen term the chopping character of the ocean beneath us, was 
rapidly changing into a current which set to the eastward. Even while I 
gazed, this current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment 
added to its speed —to its headlong impetuosity. In five minutes the 
whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was lashed into ungovernable fury; but it 
was between Moskoe and the coast that the main uproar held its sway. 
Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand 
conflicting channels, burst suddenly into phrensied convulsion — 
heaving, boiling, hissing —gyrating in gigantic and innumerable 
vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a 
rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes except in precipitous 
descents. 

In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical 
alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the 
whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam 
became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks, at 



length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into 
combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the 
subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast. 
Suddenly —very suddenly —this assumed a distinct and definite 
existence, in a circle of more than half a mile in diameter. The edge of 
the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no 
particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose 
interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and 
jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some 
forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying 
and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling 
voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of 
Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven. 

The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw 
myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of 
nervous agitation. 

"This," said I at length, to the old man --"this can be nothing else than 
the great whirlpool of the Maelstrom." 

"So it is sometimes termed," said he. "We Norwegians call it the 
Moskoe-strom, from the island of Moskoe in the midway." 
The ordinary accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me for 
what I saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which is perhaps the most 
circumstantial of any, cannot impart the faintest conception either of 
the magnificence, or of the horror of the scene —or of the wild 
bewildering sense of the novel which confounds the beholder. I am not 
sure from what point of view the writer in question surveyed it, nor at 
what time; but it could neither have been from the summit of 
Helseggen, nor during a storm. There are some passages of his 
description, nevertheless, which may be quoted for their details, 



although their effect is exceedingly feeble in conveying an impression 
of the spectacle. 

"Between Lofoden and Moskoe," he says, "the depth of the water is 
between thirty-six and forty fathoms; but on the other side, toward 
Ver (Vurrgh) this depth decreases so as not to afford a convenient 
passage for a vessel, without the risk of splitting on the rocks, which 
happens even in the calmest weather. When it is flood, the stream runs 
up the country between Lofoden and Moskoe with a boisterous 
rapidity; but the roar of its impetuous ebb to the sea is scarce equalled 
by the loudest and most dreadful cataracts; the noise being heard 
several leagues off, and the vortices or pits are of such an extent and 
depth, that if a ship comes within its attraction, it is inevitably 
absorbed and carried down to the bottom, and there beat to pieces 
against the rocks; and when the water relaxes, the fragments thereof 
are thrown up again. But these intervals of tranquillity are only at the 
turn of the ebb and flood, and in calm weather, and last but a quarter 
of an hour, its violence gradually returning. When the stream is most 
boisterous, and its fury heightened by a storm, it is dangerous to come 
within a Norway mile of it. Boats, yachts, and ships have been carried 
away by not guarding against it before they were within its reach. It 
likewise happens frequently, that whales come too near the stream, 
and are overpowered by its violence; and then it is impossible to 
describe their howlings and bellowings in their fruitless struggles to 
disengage themselves. A bear once, attempting to swim from Lofoden 
to Moskoe, was caught by the stream and borne down, while he roared 
terribly, so as to be heard on shore. Large stocks of firs and pine trees, 
after being absorbed by the current, rise again broken and torn to such 
a degree as if bristles grew upon them. This plainly shows the bottom 
to consist of craggy rocks, among which they are whirled to and fro. 
This stream is regulated by the flux and reflux of the sea —it being 
constantly high and low water every six hours. In the year 1645, early 



in the morning of Sexagesima Sunday, it raged with such noise and 
impetuosity that the very stones of the houses on the coast fell to the 
ground." 

In regard to the depth of the water, I could not see how this could have 
been ascertained at all in the immediate vicinity of the vortex. The 
"forty fathoms" must have reference only to portions of the channel 
close upon the shore either of Moskoe or Lofoden. The depth in the 
centre of the Moskoe-strom must be immeasurably greater; and no 
better proof of this fact is necessary than can be obtained from even 
the sidelong glance into the abyss of the whirl which may be had from 
the highest crag of Helseggen. Looking down from this pinnacle upon 
the howling Phlegethon below, I could not help smiling at the 
simplicity with which the honest Jonas Ramus records, as a matter 
difficult of belief, the anecdotes of the whales and the bears; for it 
appeared to me, in fact, a self-evident thing, that the largest ships of 
the line in existence, coming within the influence of that deadly 
attraction, could resist it as little as a feather the hurricane, and must 
disappear bodily and at once. 

The attempts to account for the phenomenon —some of which, I 
remember, seemed to me sufficiently plausible in perusal —now wore a 
very different and unsatisfactory aspect. The idea generally received is 
that this, as well as three smaller vortices among the Feroe islands, 
"have no other cause than the collision of waves rising and falling, at 
flux and reflux, against a ridge of rocks and shelves, which confines the 
water so that it precipitates itself like a cataract; and thus the higher 
the flood rises, the deeper must the fall be, and the natural result of all 
is a whirlpool or vortex, the prodigious suction of which is sufficiently 
known by lesser experiments." —These are the words of the 
Encyclopaedia Britannica. Kircher and others imagine that in the 
centre of the channel of the Maelstrom is an abyss penetrating the 



globe, and issuing in some very remote part —the Gulf of Bothnia 
being somewhat decidedly named in one instance. This opinion, idle in 
itself, was the one to which, as I gazed, my imagination most readily 
assented; and, mentioning it to the guide, I was rather surprised to 
hear him say that, although it was the view almost universally 
entertained of the subject by the Norwegians, it nevertheless was not 
his own. As to the former notion he confessed his inability to 
comprehend it; and here I agreed with him —for, however conclusive 
on paper, it becomes altogether unintelligible, and even absurd, amid 
the thunder of the abyss. 

"You have had a good look at the whirl now," said the old man, "and if 
you will creep round this crag, so as to get in its lee, and deaden the 
roar of the water, I will tell you a story that will convince you I ought to 
know something of the Moskoe-strom." 

I placed myself as desired, and he proceeded. 

"Myself and my two brothers once owned a schooner-rigged smack of 
about seventy tons burthen, with which we were in the habit of fishing 
among the islands beyond Moskoe, nearly to Vurrgh. In all violent 
eddies at sea there is good fishing, at proper opportunities, if one has 
only the courage to attempt it; but among the whole of the Lofoden 
coastmen, we three were the only ones who made a regular business of 
going out to the islands, as I tell you. The usual grounds are a great 
way lower down to the southward. There fish can be got at all hours, 
without much risk, and therefore these places are preferred. The 
choice spots over here among the rocks, however, not only yield the 
finest variety, but in far greater abundance; so that we often got in a 
single day, what the more timid of the craft could not scrape together 
in a week. In fact, we made it a matter of desperate speculation —the 



risk of life standing instead of labor, and courage answering for 
capital. 

"We kept the smack in a cove about five miles higher up the coast than 
this; and it was our practice, in fine weather, to take advantage of the 
fifteen minutes' slack to push across the main channel of the Moskoe- 
strom, far above the pool, and then drop down upon anchorage 
somewhere near Otterholm, or Sandflesen, where the eddies are not so 
violent as elsewhere. Here we used to remain until nearly time for 
slackwater again, when we weighed and made for home. We never set 
out upon this expedition without a steady side wind for going and 
coming —one that we felt sure would not fall us before our return — 
and we seldom made a mis -calculation upon this point. Twice, during 
six years, we were forced to stay all night at anchor on account of a 
dead calm, which is a rare thing indeed just about here; and once we 
had to remain on the grounds nearly a week, starving to death, owing 
to a gale which blew up shortly after our arrival, and made the channel 
too boisterous to be thought of. Upon this occasion we should have 
been driven out to sea in spite of everything, (for the whirlpools threw 
us round and round so violently that, at length, we fouled our anchor 
and dragged it) if it had not been that we drifted into one of the 
innumerable cross currents-here to-day and gone to-morrow —which 
drove us under the lee of Flimen, where, by good luck, we brought up. 
"I could not tell you the twentieth part of the difficulties we 
encountered 'on the ground' —it is a bad spot to be in, even in good 
weather —but we made shift always to run the gauntlet of the Moskoe- 
strom itself without accident; although at times my heart has been in 
my mouth when we happened to be a minute or so behind or before 
the slack. The wind sometimes was not as strong as we thought it at 
starting, and then we made rather less way than we could wish, while 
the current rendered the smack unmanageable. My eldest brother had 
a son eighteen years old, and I had two stout boys of my own. These 



would have been of great assistance at such times, in using the sweeps, 
as well as afterward in fishing —but, somehow, although we ran the 
risk ourselves, we had not the heart to let the young ones get into the 
danger —for, after all said and done, it was a horrible danger, and that 
is the truth. 

"It is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to tell 
you occurred. It was on the tenth of July, 18--, a day which the people 
of this part of the world will never forget —for it was one in which blew 
the most terrible hurricane that ever came out of the heavens. And yet 
all the morning, and indeed until late in the afternoon, there was a 
gentle and steady breeze from the south-west, while the sun shone 
brightly, so that the oldest seaman among us could not have foreseen 
what was to follow. 

"The three of us --my two brothers and myself —had crossed over to 
the islands about two o'clock P. M., and soon nearly loaded the smack 
with fine fish, which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day than 
we had ever known them. It was just seven, by my watch, when we 
weighed and started for home, so as to make the worst of the Strom at 
slack water, which we knew would be at eight. 

"We set out with a fresh wind on our starboard quarter, and for some 
time spanked along at a great rate, never dreaming of danger, for 
indeed we saw not the slightest reason to apprehend it. All at once we 
were taken aback by a breeze from over Helseggen. This was most 
unusual —something that had never happened to us before —and I 
began to feel a little uneasy, without exactly knowing why. We put the 
boat on the wind, but could make no headway at all for the eddies, and 
I was upon the point of proposing to return to the anchorage, when, 
looking astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with a singular 



copper-colored cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity. 
"In the meantime the breeze that had headed us off fell away, and we 
were dead becalmed, drifting about in every direction. This state of 
things, however, did not last long enough to give us time to think 
about it. In less than a minute the storm was upon us —in less than 
two the sky was entirely overcast —and what with this and the driving 
spray, it became suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in 
the smack. 

"Such a hurricane as then blew it is folly to attempt describing. The 
oldest seaman in Norway never experienced any thing like it. We had 
let our sails go by the run before it cleverly took us; but, at the first 
puff, both our masts went by the board if they had been sawed off —the 
mainmast taking with it my as I youngest brother, who had lashed 
himself to it for safety. 

"Our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon water. 
It had a complete flush deck, with only a small hatch near the bow, 
and this hatch it had always been our custom to batten down when 
about to cross the Strom, by way of precaution against the chopping 
seas. But for this circumstance we should have foundered at once —for 
we lay entirely buried for some moments. How my elder brother 
escaped destruction I cannot say, for I never had an opportunity of 
ascertaining. For my part, as soon as I had let the foresail run, I threw 
myself flat on deck, with my feet against the narrow gunwale of the 
bow, and with my hands grasping a ring-bolt near the foot of the 
foremast. It was mere instinct that prompted me to do this —which 
was undoubtedly the very best thing I could have done —for I was too 
much flurried to think. 

"For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this 



time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no 
longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my 
hands, and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave 
herself a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and thus 
rid herself, in some measure, of the seas. I was now trying to get the 
better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my senses so 
as to see what was to be done, when I felt somebody grasp my arm. It 
was my elder brother, and my heart leaped for joy, for I had made sure 
that he was overboard —but the next moment all this joy was turned 
into horror —for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed out 
the word 'Moskoe-strom!' 

"No one ever will know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook 
from head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit of the ague. I 
knew what he meant by that one word well enough —I knew what he 
wished to make me understand. With the wind that now drove us on, 
we were bound for the whirl of the Strom, and nothing could save us! 
"You perceive that in crossing the Strom channel, we always went a 
long way up above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then 
had to wait and watch carefully for the slack —but now we were driving 
right upon the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! 'To be sure,' 
I thought, 'we shall get there just about the slack —there is some little 
hope in that' —but in the next moment I cursed myself for being so 
great a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were 
doomed, had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship. 

"By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or perhaps 
we did not feel it so much, as we scudded before it, but at all events the 
seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and lay flat and 
frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular change, too, 
had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still as 
black as pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all at once, a 



circular rift of clear sky —as clear as I ever saw —and of a deep bright 
blue —and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a lustre that 
I never before knew her to wear. She lit up every thing about us with 
the greatest distinctness —but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up! 
"I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother —but in some 
manner which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I 
could not make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top 
of my voice in his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale as 
death, and held up one of his fingers, as to say 'listen!' 
"At first I could not make out what he meant —but soon a hideous 
thought flashed upon me. I dragged my watch from its fob. It was not 
going. I glanced as its face by the moonlight, and then burst into tears 
as I flung it far away into the ocean. It had run down at seven o'clock! 
We were behind the time of the slack, and the whirl of the Strom was 
in full fury! 

"When a boat is well built, properly trimmed, and not deep laden, the 
waves in a strong gale, when she is going large, seem always to slip 
from beneath her —which appears very strange to a landsman —and 
this is what is called riding, in sea phrase. 

"Well, so far we had ridden the swells very cleverly; but presently a 
gigantic sea happened to take us right under the counter, and bore us 
with it as it rose —up —up —as if into the sky. I would not have believed 
that any wave could rise so high. And then down we came with a 
sweep, a slide, and a plunge, that made me feel sick and dizzy, as if I 
was falling from some lofty mountain-top in a dream. But while we 
were up I had thrown a quick glance around —and that one glance was 
all sufficient. I saw our exact position in an instant. The Moskoe-strom 
whirlpool was about a quarter of a mile dead ahead —but no more like 
the every-day Moskoe-strom, than the whirl as you now see it, is like a 
mill-race. If I had not known where we were, and what we had to 



expect, I should not have recognised the place at all. As it was, I 
involuntarily closed my eyes in horror. The lids clenched themselves 
together as if in a spasm. 

"It could not have been more than two minutes afterwards until we 
suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat 
made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new 
direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of 
the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek —such a 
sound as you might imagine given out by the water-pipes of many 
thousand steam-vessels, letting off their steam all together. We were 
now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, 
of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss —down 
which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing 
velocity with which we were borne along. The boat did not seem to 
sink into the water at all, but to skim like an air-bubble upon the 
surface of the surge. Her starboard side was next the whirl, and on the 
larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. It stood like a huge 
writhing wall between us and the horizon. 

"It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the 
gulf, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. 
Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of 
that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that 
strung my nerves. 

"It may look like boasting —but what I tell you is truth —I began to 
reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and 
how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my 
own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God's 
power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed 



my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest 
curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its 
depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal 
grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on 
shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular 
fancies to occupy a man's mind in such extremity —and I have often 
thought since, that the revolutions of the boat around the pool might 
have rendered me a little light-headed. 

"There was another circumstance which tended to restore my self- 
possession; and this was the cessation of the wind, which could not 
reach us in our present situation —for, as you saw yourself, the belt of 
surf is considerably lower than the general bed of the ocean, and this 
latter now towered above us, a high, black, mountainous ridge. If you 
have never been at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no idea of the 
confusion of mind occasioned by the wind and the spray together. 
They blind, deafen and strangle you, and take away all power of action 
or reflection. But we were now, in a great measure, rid of these 
annoyances —just as death-condemned felons in prison are allowed 
petty indulgences, forbidden them while their doom is yet uncertain. 
"How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible to say. We 
careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than 
floating, getting gradually more and more into the middle of the surge, 
and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. All this time I 
had never let go of the ring-bolt. My brother was at the stern, holding 
on to a large empty water-cask which had been securely lashed under 
the coop of the counter, and was the only thing on deck that had not 
been swept overboard when the gale first took us. As we approached 
the brink of the pit he let go his hold upon this, and made for the ring, 
from which, in the agony of his terror, he endeavored to force my 
hands, as it was not large enough to afford us both a secure grasp. I 
never felt deeper grief than when I saw him attempt this act —although 



I knew he was a madman when he did it —a raving maniac through 
sheer fright. I did not care, however, to contest the point with him. I 
thought it could make no difference whether either of us held on at all; 
so I let him have the bolt, and went astern to the cask. This there was 
no great difficulty in doing; for the smack flew round steadily enough, 
and upon an even keel —only swaying to and fro, with the immense 
sweeps and swelters of the whirl. Scarcely had I secured myself in my 
new position, when we gave a wild lurch to starboard, and rushed 
headlong into the abyss. I muttered a hurried prayer to God, and 
thought all was over. 

"As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent, I had instinctively 
tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some 
seconds I dared not open them —while I expected instant destruction, 
and wondered that I was not already in my death-struggles with the 
water. But moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. The sense of 
falling had ceased; and the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had 
been before while in the belt of foam, with the exception that she now 
lay more along. I took courage and looked once again upon the scene. 
"Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration 
with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by 
magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in 
circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides 
might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity 
with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly 
radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that 
circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed 
in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into 
the inmost recesses of the abyss. 

"At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The 
general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I 



recovered myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively 
downward. In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, 
from the manner in which the smack hung on the inclined surface of 
the pool. She was quite upon an even keel —that is to say, her deck lay 
in a plane parallel with that of the water —but this latter sloped at an 
angle of more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying 
upon our beam-ends. I could not help observing, nevertheless, that I 
had scarcely more difficulty in maintaining my hold and footing in this 
situation, than if we had been upon a dead level; and this, I suppose, 
was owing to the speed at which we revolved. 

"The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the 
profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account 
of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over 
which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and 
tottering bridge which Mussulmen say is the only pathway between 
Time and Eternity. This mist, or spray, was no doubt occasioned by 
the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at 
the bottom —but the yell that went up to the Heavens from out of that 
mist, I dare not attempt to describe. 

"Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above, had 
carried us to a great distance down the slope; but our farther descent 
was by no means proportionate. Round and round we swept —not with 
any uniform movement —but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent us 
sometimes only a few hundred feet —sometimes nearly the complete 
circuit of the whirl. Our progress downward, at each revolution, was 
slow, but very perceptible. 

"Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we 
were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in 
the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible 
fragments of vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of 



trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, 
broken boxes, barrels and staves. I have already described the 
unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It 
appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful 
doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous 
things that floated in our company. I must have been delirious —for I 
even sought amusement in speculating upon the relative velocities of 
their several descents toward the foam below. 'This fir tree,' I found 
myself at one time saying, 'will certainly be the next thing that takes 
the awful plunge and disappears,' —and then I was disappointed to 
find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went 
down before. At length, after making several guesses of this nature, 
and being deceived in all —this fact —the fact of my invariable 
miscalculation, set me upon a train of reflection that made my limbs 
again tremble, and my heart beat heavily once more. 
"It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more 
exciting hope. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from 
present observation. I called to mind the great variety of buoyant 
matter that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and 
then thrown forth by the Moskoe-strom. By far the greater number of 
the articles were shattered in the most extraordinary way —so chafed 
and roughened as to have the appearance of being stuck full of 
splinters —but then I distinctly recollected that there were some of 
them which were not disfigured at all. Now I could not account for this 
difference except by supposing that the roughened fragments were the 
only ones which had been completely absorbed —that the others had 
entered the whirl at so late a period of the tide, or, from some reason, 
had descended so slowly after entering, that they did not reach the 
bottom before the turn of the flood came, or of the ebb, as the case 
might be. I conceived it possible, in either instance, that they might 
thus be whirled up again to the level of the ocean, without undergoing 
the fate of those which had been drawn in more early or absorbed 
more rapidly. I made, also, three important observations. The first 



was, that as a general rule, the larger the bodies were, the more rapid 
their descent; —the second, that, between two masses of equal extent, 
the one spherical, and the other of any other shape, the superiority in 
speed of descent was with the sphere; —the third, that, between two 
masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the other of any other 
shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly. 
Since my escape, I have had several conversations on this subject with 
an old school-master of the district; and it was from him that I learned 
the use of the words 'cylinder' and 'sphere.' He explained to me — 
although I have forgotten the explanation —how what I observed was, 
in fact, the natural consequence of the forms of the floating fragments 
—and showed me how it happened that a cylinder, swimming in a 
vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and was drawn in with 
greater difficulty than an equally bulky body, of any form whatever.* 



*See Archimedes, "De Incidentibus in Fluido." —lib. 2. 

"There was one startling circumstance which went a great way in 
enforcing these observations, and rendering me anxious to turn them 
to account, and this was that, at every revolution, we passed 
something like a barrel, or else the broken yard or the mast of a vessel, 
while many of these things, which had been on our level when I first 
opened my eyes upon the wonders of the whirlpool, were now high up 
above us, and seemed to have moved but little from their original 
station. 

"I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely to 
the water cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the counter, 
and to throw myself with it into the water. I attracted my brother's 
attention by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that came near us, 
and did everything in my power to make him understand what I was 
about to do. I thought at length that he comprehended my design — 
but, whether this was the case or not, he shook his head despairingly, 



and refused to move from his station by the ring-bolt. It was 
impossible to force him; the emergency admitted no delay; and so, 
with a bitter struggle, I resigned him to his fate, fastened myself to the 
cask by means of the lashings which secured it to the counter, and 
precipitated myself with it into the sea, without another moment's 
hesitation. 

"The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is myself 
who now tell you this tale —as you see that I did escape —and as you 
are already in possession of the mode in which this escape was 
effected, and must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to say —I 
will bring my story quickly to conclusion. It might have been an hour, 
or thereabout, after my quitting the smack, when, having descended to 
a vast distance beneath me, it made three or four wild gyrations in 
rapid succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it, plunged 
headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of foam below. The 
barrel to which I was attached sunk very little farther than half the 
distance between the bottom of the gulf and the spot at which I leaped 
overboard, before a great change took place in the character of the 
whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel became momently 
less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew, gradually, less and 
less violent. By degrees, the froth and the rainbow disappeared, and 
the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky was clear, the 
winds had gone down, and the full moon was setting radiantly in the 
west, when I found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view of 
the shores of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool of the 
Moskoe-strom had been. It was the hour of the slack —but the sea still 
heaved in mountainous waves from the effects of the hurricane. I was 
borne violently into the channel of the Strom and in a few minutes, 
was hurried down the coast into the 'grounds' of the fishermen. A boat 
picked me up —exhausted from fatigue —and (now that the danger was 
removed) speechless from the memory of its horror. Those who drew 
me on board were my old mates and dally companions —but they knew 
me no more than they would have known a traveller from the spirit- 



land. My hair, which had been raven-black the day before, was as 
white as you see it now. They say too that the whole expression of my 
countenance had changed. I told them my story —they did not believe 
it. I now tell it to you —and I can scarcely expect you to put more faith 
in it than did the merry fishermen of Lofoden. 



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